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Voter suppression, the blueprint to a broken democracy

November 2, 2017
Ro's Op-Eds
John Conyers and Ro Khanna

The Hill

Numerous false narratives have been advanced to sow division in the American electorate, with few more pernicious than the myth of voter fraud. Created as a tactic to justify discriminatory voter suppression practices, this mythos threatens our most fundamental constitutional right and undermines the core democratic values of republican government.

The myth that voter fraud is rampant and our elections are infiltrated by undocumented immigrants was used as a pretext for state legislatures across our nation to make it harder for minorities to vote. Against the tide of reforms to expand the franchise for all voters, states like North Carolina began to repeal common sense legislation designed to ease the inconvenience of antiquated voting practices. In 2013, the state enacted a law allowing election boards to cut voting hours. The state Republican Party even informed election officials that “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.” Consequently, 23 counties reduced early voting, accounting for half of all registered voters. 

The North Carolina law also included strict voter ID requirements and banned same-day voter registration, but was later stuck down by an appeals court. A Federal District Court found that the law was written with “discriminatory intent” that surgically targeted African Americans who use early voting more than whites. However, despite successful legal challenges, this voter suppression strategy has served as a blueprint for states across the county, producing in predictable results.

The real objective of the voter fraud strategy was suppression of the votes of minorities to achieve a cynical, partisan political outcome. Researchers from U.C. San Diego and Bucknell University measured the consequences of voter ID laws and found that they have a dramatic and discouraging effect on minority turnout. In primaries in states with strict voter ID laws, Latino turnout decreased by nine points, African-American turnout by 8.6 points and Asian-Americans by 12.5 points.

Despite these sobering statistics, courts remain divided on voter ID requirements, creating significant voter confusion. A federal judge has twice struck down Texas’ voter ID law because it was “enacted with discriminatory intent” and unfairly burdened hundreds of thousands of Hispanic and African-American voters, given that only two instances of fraudulent voting were found in Texas in the preceding decade out of 20 million votes cast. Conversely, though Wisconsin’s voter ID law was invalidated after a finding that it would disproportionately disenfranchise working-class Americans and minorities who could not afford photo IDs, that decision was reversed by a federal appeals court just before the 2016 election, making it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites to vote.

A nation that hails itself as a beacon of democracy should not tolerate tactics that suppress voter turnout. Numerous studies have proven that the claim of widespread voter fraud is in fact a fraud itself. In one example, Lorraine Minnite, author of The Myth of Voter Fraud, found only one case of voter fraud from 2000 to 2005. Similarly, President George W. Bush’s Justice Department also enthusiastically investigated voter fraud claims, but found no coordinated fraud effort. That these plans were intended to target voters on the basis of party-line, race and class is even more anti-democratic and destructive to our system of government.

As a core American value, we must be committed to expanding the right to vote and eliminating structural barriers to participation. A series of reform policies can and should be enacted at the federal level to apply equality and fairness across our elections: eliminate strict voter ID laws that discriminate against the working class and minorities; make election-day a national holiday; extend voting hours and increase the number of early voting days; and automatically register all eligible voters.   

Every eligible American deserves to exercise their constitutional right to vote, have their voices heard, and strengthen the political market place of ideas. Polling has shown that a bipartisan majority of Americans support practices to make voting more convenient. The battle of ideas, not cheap political tactics, will protect and strengthen our democracy. Both sides of the aisle should feel confident enough that their ideas can appeal to the majority without having to disenfranchise those who might vote against them.